Polymer Research Group
Heise’s group use synthetic polypeptides as the key materials proposed for their research. This is due to their ability to combine fully synthetic and natural polymers. Synthetic polypeptides are fabricated from amino acids, therefore making them bio-derived, biodegradable and biocompatible by definition. Synthetic polypeptides also contain the structural motives of natural proteins such as α-helical, β-sheet as well as random coil elements and are capable of self-organisation. Furthermore, synthetic polypeptides are rapidly and efficiently obtained via N-carboxy anhydride (NCA) ring-opening polymerization, with excellent yield and in larger quantities. Recent advances permit controlling NCA polymerization in terms of molecular weight and polymer architecture. Synthetic polypeptides thus have the potential to close the gap between natural and synthetic polymers, while being scalable and modifiable by conventional chemistry.
Synthetic polypeptide derived from amino acids are biocompatible and bioresorbable. In addition, amino acid side-groups offer possibilities for functionalisation and conjugation, which makes this class of polymers highly adaptable for biomedical applications. Within TREND we are developing a range a polypeptide structures such as block and star copolymers for self-assembly into nanoparticles suitable for applications in drug delivery and tissue engineering.
Hydrogels have long received attention as tissue engineering scaffolds or as therapeutic delivery systems because of their structural and compositional similarities to the extra-cellular matrix (ECM) and the extensive framework they potentially provide for cellular proliferation. Within TREND we aim at the development of polypeptide hydrogels to combine the advantages of natural hydrogels with the synthetic reproducibility and versatility of synthetic polymers.
Processing of biopolymers into applicable formats is an important step towards the development of medical devices. TREND is addressing this by exploring 3D printing techniques for the design of prototypes derived from the bespoke polypeptides developed in the project. Strong links exists with the AMBER Additive Manufacturing and bioprinting laboratories
Drug Delivery & Advanced Materials (DReAM)Team
The Drug Delivery and Advanced Materials (DReAM) research team focuses on translational drug delivery and bioengineering including the application and processing of materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. The platforms have been developed for application in tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and acute lung injury, inflammatory disease and cancer as well as in regenerative medicine including respiratory, orthopaedic and cardiovascular applications.
There are a growing number of biomolecules in the drug pipeline for respiratory diseases, but a number of key scientific and industrial challenges have limited their translation to-date including (1) an efficient delivery method that protects the therapeutic cargo and (2) control of the fate of the therapeutic cargoes once delivered to the lungs. The TREND team are developing a range of polypeptide-based materials and platforms to support innovative new respiratory biotherapeutic- & cell-based approaches being developed by industry and clinical researchers both nationally and internationally, with a specific focus on acute lung injury and obstructive pulmonary disease.
Scaffolds for regenerative medicine
There is a growing appreciation in all areas of tissue engineering that providing the relevant growth factor (GF) cues in the form of proteins or genes at the appropriate time and dose can ensure complete tissue regeneration, and potentially offer “off-the-shelf” cell-free scaffolds for implants. The TREND team are working with the RCSI Tissue Engineering Research Group (http://www.rcsi.ie/tissueengineering) to develop bio-inspired nanomaterials suitable for incorporation into tissue engineering scaffolds to enable appropriate spatio-temporal control of GF release and thereby develop platform technologies for TE.
Hydrogels for cell & drug delivery
There is a growing industrial need for materials that can be integrated with and delivered using medical devices and respond to physiological stimuli in vivo, thereby targeting and controlling cell and/or biotherapeutic delivery in the body. The TREND team are working with the AMCARE team (http://www.amcare.eu/) to develop a suite of bio-interactive hydrogels and on-demand drug release systems to deliver stem cells in a protected fashion that will enable minimally invasive and cost effective delivery of new Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Products (ATMPs).